Donna Brazile, a former CNN commentator and current interim Democratic National Committee chair, appears to have informed Hillary Clinton’s campaign about a question to expect at a primary debate that the network was hosting in Flint, Michigan, the following night.
The email, which WikiLeaks posted Monday, is the second released this month indicating Brazile may have tipped off the Clinton campaign about questions they could anticipate coming up at CNN events during the primary fight against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Brazile apparently sent an email to campaign chairman John Podesta and communications director Jennifer Palmieri on March 5 with the subject heading, “One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash.”
“Her family has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint,” reads the email, one of thousands stolen from Podesta’s email account and published by WikiLeaks. Russian hackers are believed to be responsible for stealing the documents, which the Clinton campaign have not authenticated.
The next night, CNN moderator Anderson Cooper introduced Lee-Anne Walters, who said her family had been poisoned and wanted to know what the candidates would do about the water crisis.
“After my family, the city of Flint and the children in D.C. were poisoned by lead, will you make a personal promise to me right now that, as president, in your first 100 days in office, you will make it a requirement that all public water systems must remove all lead service lines throughout the entire United States, and notification made to the citizens that have said service lines?” she asked.
Walters, who asked her question around 18 minutes and 39 seconds into the debate, doesn’t mention having a rash and none is visible.
CNN suspended Brazile’s contract in July as she took over the DNC on an interim basis following Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) being pressured to resign after hacked emails showed party officials boosting Clinton’s candidacy. The DNC, which was supposed to remain neutral in the primary race, had already been dogged by criticism that its primary debate schedule most benefited Clinton, the party front-runner, at the expense of lesser-known rivals.
WikiLeaks published an email earlier this month in which Brazile ― who served as DNC vice-chair while a CNN contributor ― appeared to send the Clinton campaign a question ahead of a March 13 town hall with Sanders.
“From time to time I get the questions in advance,” Brazile wrote in a March 12 email to Palmieri, then laid out a question on the death penalty, presumably to be asked at the following day’s town hall co-hosted by CNN and cable network TV One.
TV One host Roland Martin had sent CNN producers a question on the death penalty that was identical to the one Brazile sent to the Clinton campaign, Politico reported.
Martin, who co-moderated the event with CNN’s Jake Tapper, told Politico he didn’t believe he had consulted with Brazile ahead of the debate. CNN maintained it had not shared questions with Brazile and suggested to Politico that she had received it from TV One.
We are completely uncomfortable with what we have learned about [Brazile's] interactions with the Clinton campaign while she was a CNN contributor. CNN spokeswoman Lauren Pratapas
In an Oct. 13 interview, Tapper said he had “tremendous regard” for Brazile, but said the revelation was “very, very troubling.”
“It’s horrifying,” Tapper said. “Journalistically it’s horrifying, and I’m sure it will have an impact on partnering with this organization in the future and I’m sure it will have and effect on ― Donna Brazile is no longer with CNN because she’s with the DNC right now. But I’m sure it will have some impact on Donna Brazile. It’s very, very upsetting.”
CNN spokeswoman Lauren Pratapas reiterated Monday that CNN hadn’t given Brazile questions in advance and announced she had resigned from the network on Oct. 14.
“CNN never gave Brazile access to any questions, prep material, attendee list, background information or meetings in advance of a town hall or debate,” Pratapas wrote in a statement. “We are completely uncomfortable with what we have learned about her interactions with the Clinton campaign while she was a CNN contributor.”
Brazile and the DNC did not respond to requests for comments.
But Brazile tweeted that she was “honored” to have been a CNN commentator and referred questions regarding this latest email to a statement she made on Oct. 11. At that time, Brazile said she “never had access to [CNN debate] questions and would never have shared them with the candidates if I did.” She added that the WikiLeaks emails may not be authentic “because it is common for Russia to spread misinformation and forge documents.”
Just over a week after releasing that statement, Brazile objected to Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s line of inquiry about the CNN debate matter because the emails in question were stolen. Brazile said she was being “persecuted.”
The interactions between Brazile and the Clinton campaign raise additional questions about the loyalties of political operatives who also serve as network pundits.
CNN has already faced criticism for hiring Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, and not initially disclosing that he was still being paid severance by the campaign while promoting it on air. Lewandowski has reportedly continued advising Trump since officially leaving the campaign and recently traveled with the candidate to events.
CNN chief Jeff Zucker has defended hiring Lewandowski as an effort to include pro-Trump voices on air.